A big concern for Portland Audubon is the impact of large arrays of 800-foot-tall wind turbines on seabirds and other marine life. Oregon’s coast supports more than 1.3 million colonial nesting seabirds, representing more than half the nesting seabirds on the contiguous West Coast. Some of these seabirds spend at least part of their life cycle in offshore waters. We are particularly concerned about dynamic soaring birds, such as shearwaters, fulmars, and albatrosses, which fly from all around the Pacific to forage in Oregon’s rich coastal waters. This includes visits from vulnerable species with small global populations like the Short-tailed Albatross. Since these species depend on wind to soar, large wind turbines could be a serious problem for them. In addition, marine mammals, including migratory gray whales, and commercially important fishing grounds could be impacted. According to BOEM, Oregon’s best wind resource is off the south coast. However, the same wind that draws wind-energy “prospectors” also causes upwelling of nutrients, creating rich marine waters and making the region a focal point of seabird activity. Portland Audubon has identified waters off Cape Blanco as a globally prioritized Important Bird Area (IBA). This area harbors some of the highest seabird concentrations of the West Coast’s California Current Ecosystem.
BOEM and independent consultants, with support from the Department of Energy, are currently analyzing existing data to help inform siting of turbines to minimize environmental and economic impacts. We are, of course, supportive of these efforts. However, BOEM’s first priority is to expedite installation of industrial-scale energy production facilities. We have reason for concern, as the process allows big energy companies to decide where they want to site facilities first, and then a public process follows.
It is expected that BOEM will invite companies to propose sites for projects later this year (likely in November). Then there will be two opportunities for public input—the first in response to general siting of “call areas,” and another with the NEPA-required public process, after areas have been leased and companies have put forth their specific plans, which could be quite late in the game for making meaningful adjustments.
Please stay tuned on this emerging issue, as there will be important opportunities for public comment. Meanwhile, Portland Audubon, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, and the Oregon Audubon Council will be engaging directly with BOEM, state agencies, scientists, and other entities, aiming to ensure the federal permitting process works as proactively as possible to minimize wildlife disturbances.